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They Don’t Have George W. Bush to Kick Around Anymore

To a greater extent than any administration that preceded it, the Obama team has obsessively blamed its predecessor for everything and anything. The public, however, has not been distracted. Americans have a president, only one, who is responsible for domestic and foreign policy. Regardless of whether they consider George W. Bush at fault for some of our current ills, they are no less annoyed with Obama’s performance. (Similarly, blaming BP for the Gulf oil spill hasn’t gotten Obama a free pass from the voters. They can be mad at both.)

Recent polling shows that there is no mileage left in the “Bush did it” strategy:

New polling shows that Bush’s standing among the electorate remains weak, and that voters for the most part still fault him for the nation’s ailing economy. But as President Obama’s popularity has stagnated, Democratic strategists say that drawing simple comparisons between the two leaders is not a surefire strategy to move voters their way.

Our current data brings into question the notion that you can run against Bush and win,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “Obviously Bush is not popular. The question is: Does it help Obama to run against the past in debating the future?”

The answer seems to be no. For one thing, Bush isn’t that much less popular than Obama:

A survey from Gallup released last week found that Bush’s personal favorability rating had increased 10 points since the last such poll in 2009. At 45%, it was just 7 points behind Obama’s, bringing into question whether attacking the Bush legacy would be very effective.

Moreover, with each passing month, Obama’s policies — from Israel to relations with allies to national security to taxes — compare unfavorably to Bush’s. If you take away the names and ask: “Close or keep open Gitmo?” or “Embrace or put daylight between the U.S. and Israel?” or “Raise or cut taxes?” the public doesn’t favor the policies of Obama. And by a wide margin:

A recent survey from Benenson Strategy Group, which has polled for the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee, specifically tested the potency of the Bush message. When asked to choose between a candidate who would support the Obama economic policies or one who “will start from scratch with new ideas to shrink government, cut taxes and grow the economy,” respondents preferred the latter by more than a 2-1 ratio.

It was, from the get-go, unseemly for Obama to blame his predecessor whenever his own policies didn’t turn out as advertised. (Maybe that is why no previous president resorted to this tactic for over a year into his term.) Now that it also has proven to be an ineffective tactic, we can only hope that Obama finally will stop employing it.

One final note: many conservatives have been miffed by Bush’s silence since he left office and by his steadfast refusal to defend his own record and that of those who worked long and hard for him. But perhaps there was great wisdom in that. The public needed time and distance to reacquaint themselves with Bush’s many positive attributes and accomplishments. (And Dick Cheney more than picked up the slack.) With the foil of the not-Bush president – one lacking in warmth for his fellow citizens, loyalty to allies, and magnanimity to foes –  the public has, in fact, grown fonder of Bush, the 43th president.

That is altogether fitting and deserved for a president who endured endless attacks and who was willing to sacrifice popularity for victory in war. It should also give some encouragement to those intrigued by the prospect of Bush the 45th president (Jeb). Maybe the Bush name isn’t so much of a liability after all.



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